Summer vacation is synonymous with R&R, days spent lounging by the water with an umbrella drink, dining al fresco, or catching up on all the reading that your tired eyes couldn’t manage during the school year. Some may even be fortunate enough to pack their bags and go on an adventure, whether it be to visit loved ones or to get some additional stamps on that passport.
We know that our students have a variety of summer experiences as well. Some have the luxury of being able to hop on a plane to go on an unforgettable family vacation, while others may be shadowing their parents during their second job, and everything in between. While some schools may have more students that fall into one category over another, most teachers recognize that students’ lives outside of the classroom may come in lots of different shapes and sizes.
How do you deal with the “tell me about your summer vacation” icebreaker in this context? How do you avoid quickly alienating the child that spent the summer in summer school or the one that got to go to fancy sleepaway camp when none of their classmates had that same opportunity? And, how do you manage this in the context of letting kids learn that the reality is that everyone needs to appreciate what they have and not feel jealous of those that may have more? How do you also foster a collaborative environment during these first few days of school?
One idea is to plan a virtual “back to school vacation” for your students during that first week of school, at any grade level. Explain to your students that no matter what everyone did over the summer, we can all learn from one another. Educate your students about how foreign travel requires passports, which enables a country to know who is traveling and also gives the traveler the added benefit of being able to look back on the places that they’ve been as a “memory book,” similar to a school yearbook or autograph book.
Ask each child to come up with one fun activity that they did over the summer or something that they want to do in the future that they can share with each student in the class. You may want to provide examples that would resonate with your school – e.g., going on vacation, going to a special restaurant, an amazing pickup basketball game, or a meaningful Fourth of July celebration. Provide each child with, or have each prepare, a virtual passport (no more than white paper folded and stapled into a booklet).
Create a rotation system in your classroom, allowing each student to meet with their peer for three minutes before you tell them to switch, enabling each child to give a summary of what they did or want to do, and why it was or would be special to them. Ask each child to sign their peer’s “passport” and, depending upon the grade level, write one word to describe their experience (e.g., lasagna to describe a grandmother’s summer visit).
This exercise should allow students to get to know each other in a one-on-one setting, enable each student to feel valued and as though their experience matters, learn from one another, practice social skills along with oratory skills, and provide a nice keepsake.
Of course, this activity may be modified for older grades to even allow for a research project or group projects.
Used this idea? Taken it to another level? We’d love to hear and see what you’ve done or plan to do!